Friday, August 05, 2005

Where Do You See Yourself In Nine Hundred Years?

A friend of mine tells the story of the fellow on a job interview who is asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Without missing a beat, he opens his day planner, flips through the pages, and looks up. “I’m free,” he says. “What did you have in mind?”

But seriously folks.

Today marks the 900th yahrtzeit of Rashi. What this means to the casual observer is that Rashi has been gone for nine centuries. But to the thoughtful Jew it means that Rashi has been with us for nine centuries.

I was told that several decades ago, on the occasion of the Rambam’s 750th yahrtzeit, several students approached Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l, for his thoughts on the event. He looked at them with utter bewilderment. “You mean the Rambam is dead?” he asked.

We are aware of the famous aphorism of our Sages that the righteous, even in death, are considered alive, but it often takes a milestone to bring home the truth of that statement. Rashi is alive this very day. Rashi, if we had the advantage of an elementary Jewish education, has been with us from our youngest years, and, if we kept up with our studies, remains a staple in the diet of Torah learning. Rashi will grow old with us.

Rashi’s accomplishments are practically beyond human comprehension. His commentary on the Written Torah is the very first stop when studying Chumash and his commentary on the Oral Torah is also the very first stop when studying Talmud. Imagine that! Forgive a crude sports metaphor (lehavdil!), but that would be like Babe Ruth and Wayne Gretzky being the same person.

And Rashi does it so simply. A word here; a quote there. For this reason children are able to learn and understand Rashi almost as soon as they learn to read Hebrew. A great rabbi once likened Rashi to an adult who holds the hand of a child and helps him cross the street through traffic.

But Rashi’s simplicity is also deceptive, for it masks a deeper intention. Why, for example, does Rashi quote one midrash and leave out another? Why does Rashi define a word by referencing a similar word in a verse in Nevi’im, when he could have quoted a more primary verse from Chumash?

Several years back, a scholar wrote a book called, What’s Bothering Rashi? where he tackles these sorts of problems. The hidden genius of Rashi is that you didn’t recognize that these even were problems until the answers were pointed out to you.

And while Rashi is envied for his brevity, the sheer volume of his work is awe inspiring. Rabbi Berel Wein, shlit”a, tells the story of his days as a high school principal when he once punished a misbehaving freshman by having him write out all the Rashis of a certain parshah. Simply copying all that Rashi was enough to bring the boy back to the straight and narrow.

Speaking of Rabbi Wein, he published a small synopsis of Rashi’s life in the Summer issue of Jewish Action magazine. I located it online and printed it out this afternoon at work. But before I could pull it off the printer, a colleague approached me, holding the document. “This would either be yours or mine,” he said, judging from the context, “and I know I didn’t print it.”

Until that moment, I hadn’t realized he was Jewish.

“Oh yes, I’m Reform,” he said. “But I have a friend who’s trying to upgrade me.”

I laughed. “Keep the article,” I said. “It’s about one of the greatest Jewish scholars in history. He died nine hundred years ago, but his work is studied in every Jewish school to this day.”

So if you’re free, here’s what I have in mind: pull out a Chumash or a Gemara and learn a little bit—with Rashi.


Blogger Jew Speak said...

Rabbi Wein also put out a great movie on Rashi. You can watch a free preview on that page. I highly recommend it.

Sat Aug 06, 05:12:00 PM  
Blogger Jew Speak said...

Rabbi Wein wrote a great article about Rashi in

Jewish Action (click here)

Sat Aug 06, 09:11:00 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

It's incredible. What Rashi did and the debt we owe him is so great. Thank you for posting this.

Sat Aug 06, 10:25:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Saw the movie.

And the article I mentioned in the post is the RBW article you link to.

Sat Aug 06, 11:00:00 PM  
Blogger The Rabbi's Kid said...


Something good did come out of France. Rashi comforts me in difficult times.

BTW, still waiting for your epic on Tokfo Cohen. They'll be talking about Rabbenu ClooJew in 900 years, pleade G-d.


Sun Aug 07, 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

Sage advice, ClooJew. & I appreciate the hockey reference (& she smiles gleefully at the thought that there shall indeed be an 05/06 NH season... :)
Shavu'ah tov!

Sun Aug 07, 01:30:00 PM  
Blogger Elster said...

That one commentator amoungst literally hundreds of unfathomable minds became THE COMMENTARY on both Torah AND Gemara simply says it all. Rashi was unique yet universal, if you follow.

Mon Aug 08, 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger EN said...

Great story CJ.

Mon Aug 08, 04:50:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Just a quick aside. I hate to have to do this. But the last three comments--which I just erased--were all from "Anonymous" and contained links to various sites, the merits of which I am not judging.

Just to let everyone know, I'm not going to allow spam or links that are off-topic to disrupt the discussion. I will delete them posthaste. So please don't do it (although I'm sure those that do it, do so through some sort of "bot" program and aren't likely to read this.)

Mon Aug 08, 09:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Chana said...

R' Soloveitchik describes the relationship between himself and the Rambam.

Your post is thoughtfully written. Thanks. ;)

Tue Aug 09, 09:23:00 AM  
Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

Great message

Tue Aug 09, 01:17:00 PM  
Blogger Alana said...

Yes, it was accidental, but still. All I could think of is what if that had been my dog??? That's what made things worse. As the day goes, I feel a little better about it. Not much though.

Tue Aug 09, 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger callieischatty said...

Hey so do what makes you happy. Don't try to be someone else.

And never ever ever respond to someone who propositions you online.

Screw that nonsense.

Just have fun blogging, you are a creative smart funny girl. Have fun.

Tue Aug 09, 08:36:00 PM  
Blogger Shopaholic said...

Great Post Cloo!
(from herwith to be refered as GPC).
As TRK said "Something good did come out of France"


BTW- Love the new pic of George (in the white shirt) he is by far my most fav male actor.

Wed Aug 10, 12:41:00 AM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Oy, sorry!

I just changed it again for the Nine Days, but I'll bring this one back after Tisha B'Av if you like it so much.

Wed Aug 10, 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger The Rabbi's Kid said...

cj, great work on the picture - can you have him looking emaciated due to the lack of meat?

Wed Aug 10, 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger fsgsf said...

I like R' Yoshe Ber's response to the Rambams death!!

Although all Tzadikkim are officially still alive, it rings truer for such everyday staples of Torah learning such as Rambam and Rashi!

Ilike your clooney "3 weeks" look. very good!!


NJ from NJ

Wed Aug 10, 02:14:00 PM  
Blogger callieischatty said...

LOL I just realized that the post I made was intended for another blogger~!
I love Rashi too, and please, ignore the previous comment from me! It was to someone else!

Wed Aug 10, 06:40:00 PM  
Blogger The real me said...

Rashi is Rashi, Raban Shel Yisroel.

Wed Aug 10, 11:29:00 PM  
Blogger Semgirl said...

I'd like to comment, because you asked me if I read your blog. But I am really out of my league with this one.

Thu Aug 11, 12:26:00 AM  
Blogger Elster said...

Sometimes CJ operates on a whole 'nother level

Thu Aug 11, 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger tmeishar said...

Chana, the link you gave was really something special. It reminded me of this.

Thu Aug 11, 12:53:00 PM  

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